MILITARY and geopolitical experts dismissed Chinese state media’s warnings of war over the South China Sea following US Secretary of State-designate Rex Tillerson’s statement that China should be barred from reclaimed islands.
Experts said China’s military and economic reach, as well international alliances, were not enough to sustain a war.
Antonio Santos, former undersecretary for defense affairs, said China only had one aircraft carrier in service and it would take a while to complete its arms buildup in the disputed waters.
“And in fact, they are just putting that to flight for propaganda purposes. They still do not know how to operate an aircraft carrier,” Santos claimed.
The US, in comparison, has 10 aircraft carriers in service and one in reserve, he said.
“As an intelligence officer, you don’t come up with a conclusion based on the intent. We look at capabilities,” he said.
Former national security adviser Roilo Golez said China’s alliances were no match with that of the US.
“If you’re talking about the top 20 powers of the world, practically, all of them, except of the one county in the Indian Ocean, are friends of the USA. China’s only friend is that one country in the Indian Ocean and the other country is North Korea,” the former lawmaker said.
“From the economic point of view, the top six economies – the US, China, Japan, Germany, Great Britain and India – China is alone in the top six. All the rest are with the United States.”
Conflict will also take a toll on the Chinese economy, which remains smaller than that of the US, Santos said.
“The ability to sustain a war, that’s the important thing. You can start a war, but can you sustain it? Sustaining a war is based on the economy. If China loses the exportation, they will die,” Santos said.
Earlier this month, Tillerson told US lawmakers during his confirmation hearing in Washington that China must be denied access to reefs in the South China Sea that it had irreversibly destroyed.
China’s influential English-language newspapers issued strongly worded editorials against the plan.
“Unless Washington plans to wage a large-scale war in the South China Sea, any other approaches to prevent Chinese access to the islands will be foolish,” the Global Times said.
China Daily took a similar line, saying: “It would set a course for devastating confrontation between China and the US. After all, how can the US deny China access to its own territories without inviting the latter’s legitimate, defensive responses?”